‘Great fiction, of any type, is always about mystery and surprise’ – In conversation with Jonathan Kellerman
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It’s Jonathan Kellerman’s curiosity that drives the exploration of human behaviour in his novels.

In an exclusive interview, the author spoke to Lauren Mc Diarmid of The Penguin Post about the evolution of his ideas, the distinction between good and evil, and the brand-new book in his Alex Delaware series, The Ghost Orchid.

Are there specific elements that you believe define your approach to storytelling?
My interest in writing novels is to explore human behaviour and to provide entertainment for my wonderful readers. I’m an intensely curious person, and have been so for as long as I can remember.

Ghost Orchid explores psychological and emotional depth. Can you share your inspiration behind delving into these themes?
Inspiration, implying a sudden epiphany, doesn’t apply to how I write books. The ideas coalesce gradually and evolve, eventually taking form as a coherent plot. I do a lot of thinking and outlining. Some stories take months to develop, others take years.

Your Alex Delaware series often involves intricate psychological mysteries. How do you balance the suspenseful elements with the psychological complexities in Ghost Orchid?
There’s no contradiction behind psychological complexity and suspense. Quite the opposite. Great fiction, of any type, is always about mystery and surprise. The reader needs to care what happens on the next page.

Are there specific challenges or rewards in continuing a long-running series like the Alex Delaware books?
The challenge is to provide satisfaction to all my readers. Loyal repeat readers need to enjoy what I call ‘the comfort of the familiar’ while new readers need to feel welcome and not excluded by too many in-jokes. That’s the line I walk and I’d like to think it’s successful as the Delaware novels comprise the longest running crime series in America, perhaps, the world.

Your characters Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis have become iconic. How do you keep them fresh and evolving with each new instalment?
Keeping characters fresh results when the author enjoys writing about them. I consider Alex and Milo old friends and I always welcome them into my brain. I love writing the series because it allows me to tell a certain type of story.

Ghost Orchid explores the darker aspects of human nature. How do you approach the portrayal of complex and morally ambiguous characters to maintain reader engagement?
I never set out formally to ‘approach’ anything. I think, plan, plot, finally convince myself that I’ve got a coherent story. Then I set about writing it. And often change everything. Regarding moral ambiguity: it’s not my thing. I believe in a clear distinction between right and wrong, good and evil. However, once I begin to explore characters, I learn about them and their complexities.

Are there specific narrative techniques you employed to enhance the overall reading experience?
Again, no formal plans. Writing fiction, for me, is an hypnoidal experience. That is, hypnotic-like. My characters become real people. I immerse myself in their lives, watch them, listen to them. I figure if I’m enjoying the story, my readers will.

As an accomplished author, what advice do you have for aspiring writers, especially those interested in crafting psychological mysteries or thrillers such as your own?
Don’t wait around for ‘inspiration’. Even worse, don’t navel-study. Introspection is the enemy of creativity. Live life, work hard, do a lot of listening and observing and, most important of all, have something to say. Then work harder. If none of this appeals to you, seek out an alternative career, say politics.


This article was originally published in The Penguin Post, a magazine about books for book lovers from Penguin Random House South Africa.   

Categories Fiction International

Tags Interviews Jonathan Kellerman Penguin Random House SA The Ghost Orchid The Penguin Post

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